Cafe culture is celebrated on a grand scale in the historic Polish city of Krakow – the opportunity to relax with a cup of strong black coffee is never far away.

Café culture is celebrated on a grand scale in the historic Polish city of Kraków – the opportunity to relax with a cup of strong black coffee, or kawa, is never far away.

Louche hangout of choice among the cognoscenti of the Kazimierz district, Singer Café is filled with old Singer sewing machines which double as tables. By day, it’s an atmospheric, low-key place. By night, they turn up the music and the place hums until dawn to an energetic mix of gypsy, Jewishstyle klezmer and other ethnic music (00 48 12 292 0622; ul Estery 20; espresso £1.20).

Hidden away on a corner in the Old Town behind St John’s Church, tiny Café Camelot feels like a time-warp. Its snug, low-arched rooms are cluttered with candlelit tables and offbeat folklore figurines. The place has a colourful history: it was a brothel in the early 20th century, popular with local artists. Be sure to try the delicious szarlotka – Polish apple cake – and sweet cherry wine (00 48 12 421 01 23; ul Św Tomasza 17; espresso £1.50; szarlotka £2.70).

Established in 1895, Jama Michalika in the Old Town is famous as the birthplace of Modernist visual arts movement Młoda Polska (Young Poland) – the café was a magnet for writers, painters and other young creatives between 1890 and 1918. The grand Art Nouveau interior and art works retain a historic charm, and its kawa z alkoholem (coffees with alcohol) are delicious on a nippy afternoon (ul Floriańska 45; kawa Hennessy £3).

Bona, a pleasant combination of café and bookshop with its bookshelves sandwiched between the interior and the outdoor seating, lies just a few hundred yards from Wawel Castle. Sip a coffee with a view of the Church of SS Peter & Paul and the medieval square in front of it (ul Kanonicza 11; coffee from £1.20).

You could easily spend an entire afternoon browsing through Massolit Books & Café, the city’s best English-language bookstore-cum-café, which sells secondhand books in Polish and English. Its library-like interior makes it an ideal spot for slowing down and escaping for a few hours – grab a homemade brownie and a latte, find a corner and enjoy one of the city’s most intellectual hangouts (ul Felicjanek 4; coffee from £1).

Many cafés in the Kazimierz district take their cue from the area’s Jewish roots, but Cheder Café aims to both entertain and educate. Named after a traditional Hebrew school, the café offers access to a decent library in Polish and English, regular readings and film screenings, as well as real Israeli coffee, brewed in a Turkish copper pot with cinnamon and cardamom (ul Józefa 36; Israeli coffee from £1.80).

The smell of fresh-brewed Java and the sounds of jazz music entice you into Café Rękawka, across the river Vistula from Kazimierz in the newer Podgórze district. It’s a funny mismatch of burlap coffee bags, lace curtains and leafy plants, creating the perfect atmosphere to sink into a comfy chair (00 48 12 296 2002; ul Kazimierza Brodzińskiego; coffee from £1).

The old Prowincja café is gone, but nextdoor New Prowincja has an arty feel, with low ceilings, birds in birdcages and an upstairs gallery space. People come from all over town for its Spanish-style hot chocolate, which is so thick and rich, it can be eaten with a spoon. And don’t leave without trying the lemon meringue cake (ul Bracka 3-5; hot chocolate £1.50, lemon meringue cake £1.70).

When it’s chilly outside, grab a seat in Café Bunkier with a mug of coffee. This local favourite, attached to the contemporary art gallery, Bunkier Sztuki, is a covered terrace resembling an enormous greenhouse. Situated beside the Planty park, which encircles Kraków’s Old Town, it makes the perfect peoplewatching spot (Plac Szczepański 3a; coffee from £1.50, cake from £1.50).

Where to stay
The Hotel Pod Wawelem, at the foot of Wawel Royal Castle, has a crisp and up-to-date feel. The 91 rooms and apartments are minimally styled, with art on the walls and river or castle views (from £40; Plac Na Groblach 22).

The Grand Hotel is exactly that – a palace built in the 19th century and now one of the city’s finest hotels. Its 56 rooms feature antique furnishings, fine artwork and tapestries, and fantastic high ceilings (from £80; ul Sławkowska 5–7).

Hotel Stary is housed in an 18th-century Old Town residence that exudes opulent charm, with natural fabrics, Italian marble bathroom surfaces, and silk and Oriental carpets throughout (from £180; Szczepańska 5).

John Paul II International airport, almost seven miles west of Kraków’s centre, is served by easyJet, Jet2 and Ryanair from Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Gatwick, Leeds Bradford, Liverpool, Newcastle and Stansted (from £70). An express train links the airport with the main Kraków Główny station on the outskirts of the Old Town in 20 minutes (singles £3). Bus and taxi details can also be found on the airport website. Most of Kraków’s centre is within a four-square-mile area, which makes walking your best bet.

The article 'Mini guide to Krakow’s cafes' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Traveller.